WENATCHEE - Thursday evening - two weeks after the Carlton Complex fires roared around his home near Methow - Steve Love befriended a young bear cub who had suffered severe burns and who wandered up his driveway.
When she took shelter under his horse trailer, he put out a bowl of water and gently tossed her ripened apricots from his tree.
And when she started whimpering that night, he came as close as he dared and tried to comfort her. “I said, ’You’re OK little bear. Everything will be all right’ in a soothing voice,” he recalled.
The next day, a Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife officer captured her and brought her to Rich Beausoleil, the agency’s bear and cougar specialist (pictured, left, loading the bear cub into a crate for a flight to California). And by Monday morning - with the donated help of many more people - the 37-pound cub since named Cinder was on her way by private plane to a wildlife rehabilitation center in Lake Tahoe.
Beausoleil said her paws were so badly burned, she was walking on her elbows when Wildlife officer Jason Day captured her on Friday.
The pads on all four paws have third-degree burns and may never fully recover, said East Wenatchee veterinarian Randy Hein, who checked her out on Sunday night to ensure she could make the trip to California.
Hein said Cinder’s claws also burned and may come off because there was no blood flowing to them. She suffered second-degree burns on her face and chest, and the tips of her ears.
“It’s going to be months and months of rehabilitation for this little bear,” Hein said. “But she was eating well. She came in with a belly full of grub, which is good. For her body to heal, she’ll have to have good nutrition.”
Beausoleil said Hein made a special trip to his office Sunday to examine Cinder after Seattle pilot Bill Inman heard about the cub through Pilots for Paws and offered to fly to Wenatchee and take her directly to Lake Tahoe. A director of product development for the outdoor clothing company Exofficio, Inman was headed to Salt Lake City for a trade show and added an extra leg to his trip to help Cinder.
Hein, too, provided his time and supplies - including burn ointment, antibiotics and bandages - to help the young cub burned by fire.
He said when he looked for somewhere to rehabilitate her, Lake Tahoe Wildlife Care came to the top of the list because they have successfully rehabilitated a bear that suffered burns in a wildfire six years ago.
Tom Millham, Wildlife Care’s director, said he’s very hopeful Cinder will not only survive, but that she eventually can be released back into the wild near her home in Okanogan County. He said her burns are very similar to the burns on Little Smokey, who came to them in the summer of 2008 weighing just 8.5 pounds. “We have some concerns right now, but overall, it looks good,” he said.
The organization is an independent, nonprofit volunteer organization that operates completely on donations.
Beausoleil said he thinks Cinder got caught in a hot spot and was forced to walk on burning hot embers.
He said Love’s house, near the intersection of Watson Draw and French Creek Road, is in an area where the Carlton Complex fires burned extremely hot on July 17. Most of the trees in the area were torched, and all of the undergrowth is completely gone. Officer Day looked in the area for tracks, but found no evidence that that the mother might be near. It’s not known whether she made her way to safety, or perished in the fire.
Beausoleil said he’s gotten reports of people finding wildlife killed by the fire. Residents also spotted a different bear cub in the Alta Lake area last weekend and worried it lost its mother. Beausoleil said with an orchard just above, they were advised to leave the cub alone, and the mother later returned with a sibling and they were reunited.
The green oasis around Love’s house was the only place within a half mile where any shade could be found.
Love said fire destroyed his garden and fencing, but his house, barn and some of his trees survived.
On Thursday morning, several hours before Cinder found her way to his home, Love said a woman came to the aluminum foundry and sculpture studio in Pateros, where he worked with Richard Beyer and which he now owns. “She was taking pictures of my sculpture of two bear cubs,” he said. “She lives at Alta Lake and lost her house, and she wanted a picture of something familiar to her.”
It was from her that he learned that bears sometimes come down from the high country after a wildfire. “And one came that evening,” he said.
Cinder, the Carlton Complex’s own Smokey Bear.